For Jimmy Butler, nothing has ever come easy. He has proved himself over and over again. From being a role player on a very good college basketball team at Marquette to being a steal in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Fast forward four years and Butler is one of the league’s newest All-Stars, and playing 40 minutes a game on a contending Bulls team who’ll now have to overcome another obstacle after recently spraining a ligament in his left elbow. He says he is feeling good and on his way back. But even with the Bulls facing down another season stopped short by injuries to key players, Butler knows things could be worse. Much worse.
Having dealt with adversity as an adolescent, the odds of JB making it this far were very slim. Now that he has made it, he is one of the front man in helping defeat childhood hunger. Partnering with Kellogg’s for the Give a Child Breakfast Program Butler’s mission now is to advocate for kids to eat breakfast in the morning. This year’s breakfast program is part of the company’s Breakfasts for Better Days commitment to provide one billion servings of cereal and snacks by the end of 2016 – more than half of which are breakfast – to children and families in need around the world.
“I just think I can feel for kids because I know how important it is to wake up and make sure to get a good solid breakfast to start the day,” Butler says. “As a professional athlete they really look up at me and really believe what I’m preaching and it’s because they can tell that I really care.”
After donating $10,000 to a Chicago high school through a student shooting competition, we talked with Jimmy about his mission to defeat childhood hunger, his fashion style, signing with the Jordan Brand, and playing in his first All-Star Game.
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How was it working with the kids today? What are some of the things you told them?
It was an amazing experience, it was really fun. I was just letting them know I was there to raise awareness that one in five kids go to school hungry. I just tried to get them to understand about they can reach their dreams as long as they start the day off right maximizing their potential and their bodies. So it was definitely a success working with them.
Congrats on signing with the Jordan Brand. Can you talk about how that relationship developed and how it feels to wear MJ’s shoes?
It is cool to wear his shoe here in the city of Chicago. The relationship has been great and they show a lot of love to their athletes at Team Jordan so it is big for me. They make sure I am all taken care of.
Have you met MJ and what was that convo like?
I met him during All-Star Weekend at the Jordan 30th anniversary party. He just congratulated me for being a first time All-Star and told me to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s really cool to hear that from Mike, especially what he has done for the city and for the game of basketball as a whole.
What are your favorite sneakers to play in now?
For me I love the XX9s just because it is a modern day sneaker. You know guys like the retros but I like playing in the XX9s.
If you had three Jordans to rock for the rest of your life, which three will you select?
They will be the Jordan IXs (Cool Grey), any pair of Xs because I just liked the way they look, and the Jordan XIs (Space Jam).
Marquette is a Jordan Brand school. Do you still own some of the customized Jordans you guys got?
Yeah I still got a few and they make sure to send me a pair whenever they get them in stock so I have a few pairs in the closet.
I read an article where you mentioned that you see your hair as a brand. I see it as a style that many players are doing — are you the official trendsetter?
I wouldn’t call myself that. I feel like what I do with my body and my hair everybody takes note of, so I think this hairstyle kind of gives kids a right to say they want to have their hair like that. I think that’s more cool than being a brand for me.
Do you have a nickname for your hairstyle? If so, you should find a cool one and trademark it like how Anthony Davis has the brow and James Harden with his beard.
I don’t need to trademark it, it’s just a hairstyle. If anybody wants it they can have it. You can have it if you want.
You see guys like Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook get a lot of fashion coverage. How would you describe your fashion style?
Lazy. I like sweatpants, I like cowboy boots, which is different. You know, to each his own. I am not too worried about the fashion.
Besides yourself is there anyone else on the Bulls roster who has a great fashion taste?
I think Naz (Nazr Mohammed) is aight. You know when people dress up in suits I think everybody looks halfway decent. I don’t really judge too many guys in what they got on.
Can you talk about the style of Chicago as a whole. What do you have to wear to stand out there?
Jackets. You wear jackets. It’s like minus-20 degrees outside.
How was your first All-Star Game? I know for a small-town guy like you, playing in New York City must have been a crazy experience?
It was cool, it was different but it was fun. I learned a lot and I got a lot of respect for the guys that do that because they take up a lot of your time when you out there but I wouldn’t change it and I hope it’s not my last All-Star Game.
Were there any celebs you saw or met and was like “Wow?”
Nah not really, I don’t get too starstruck too often. I got my one starstruck manner way back in the day.
What is something people do not know about you? Is there is a special talent you have no one else knows about?
Talent-wise probably not, but people know that I like country music now, I think what a lot of people do not know is how serious and how passionate I am about working with kids and I believe that they are the future of everything in this world. We definitely have to keep them positive and moving in the right direction, which is what this morning and Kellog’s was all about. Since it has so much to do with kids, I really had a blast.
What is some music currently in your headphones right now?
Just some country music – Brad Paisley, Lee Brice, and probably some people you never heard of.
You grew up a huge T-Mac fan. What is some of the things you loved about him?
Just they way he carried himself on and off the court and obviously how great of a basketball player he was. But if you went to a game you can see the way he was always joking around with kids. You know as a kid, man, when you see that type of stuff you like, man, that will be cool if I was in his shoes. I do the same thing so he was a good role model to look up to then.
You improved so much this season — perhaps the Most Improved Player in the league. What made you turn on the lights completely and take it up a notch? Did anyone or something inspire you?
Not really. I just gained a lot more confidence in my game and in myself. I worked on my craft so I knew that whenever I got back I was going to be able to play at an extremely high level. So my trainer gets a lot of credit for that but I am just happy to help us win some games.
Moving forward, how do you see the Bulls fairing out in the playoffs? I know with the injuries some people are saying how you guys are not contenders anymore. What is the current mindset in the locker room and how will you guys make people believers again?
We can’t control what people say or what people think, so we just try to control what we can to get everybody healthy. Try to win as many games as possible going into the playoffs and be the first one to four wins in every playoff series.
Expectations in Chicago must be really high right now?
Yeah, Mike played here and what he did for the Bulls in the ’90s we want to get back to that but first we have to be healthy and we have to win some games.
Follow Jarrel on Twitter at @_JarrelHarris